Santa Catalina: Panama’s Pacific-Coast Paradise

Much of Panama’s pacific coast consists of unspoiled beaches and little communities where you’ll find friendly people and small towns offering a taste of the past. Here authentic Panamanian culture still exists and people treat visitors like welcome guests. One such community is the surf town of Santa Catalina. It’s located in the province of Veraguas, about two-and-a-half hours southwest of the city of Santiago.

Last year, I went on a trip to Santa Catalina with my 10-year-old son Jesse. We found a fantastic beach with great waves for surfing, offshore islands with abundant marine life, and access to some of Panama’s best fishing waters. We also discovered friendly people and an intimate and inviting atmosphere that made us feel welcome wherever we went.

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Santa Catalina is a paradise for surfing and snorkeling.

The waves around Santa Catalina are some of the best in Central America for surfing. We scheduled a lesson through Rolo Cabins, the hostel where we stayed. More experienced surfers often head for nearby Punta Brava, where they find bigger, more challenging waves over a rock bottom. Santa Catalina is also a paradise if you like diving and snorkeling. Day trips can easily be arranged with one of the local outfitters through your hotel or hostel.

We took a boat trip out to Isla Coiba where we snorkeled, spotting sea turtles and a huge variety of fish, including colorful parrots, several species of angelfish, and even a school of huge blue surgeon fish. The cost for the trip was $50 each and another $20 for entrance to Coiba Island National park for those over 12 years old. You’ll need to bring your own lunch and drinks.

Not surprisingly, there is great fishing in the waters near Santa Catalina, too, and the range of species is incredible.

With all the great activities that Santa Catalina has to offer, it’s still a quiet little town with a friendly atmosphere. This is especially true during March through December, which is considered the off season. Small hostels and restaurants cater to visitors, with a wide range of lodging and dining options. Our stay at Rolo Cabins set us back $20 a night for a room with twin beds and a shared bathroom. If you’re looking for something with a private bathroom and more amenities, plan on spending around $75 per night.

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